MORVEN, Ga. —
The logistics agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office suspended the transfer of firearms to police forces more than a year ago because of concerns that state coordinators weren’t keeping adequate inventory records.
Communities can still obtain other types of tactical equipment, such as aircraft, boats, Humvees, body armor, weapon scopes, infrared imaging systems and night-vision goggles. There’s no indication that the suspension of firearms distribution has slowed local police from gorging themselves on general property items — a long list that includes bookcases, hedge trimmers, telescopes, brassieres, golf carts, coffee makers and television sets.
The weapons program had serious problems.
A sheriff in Bureau County, Ill., was accused of lending government-issued M-14 rifles to unauthorized friends. The firearms manager for the program in North Carolina pleaded guilty in April to stealing M-14 and M-16 assault rifles and other weapons, selling some on eBay for more than $30,000. A story last year in The Arizona Republic that contributed to the suspension of the weapons program detailed how officials at the Pinal County sheriff’s office budgeted the expected proceeds from the auction of some Defense Department discards in violation of program rules. Other unused pieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to non-police agencies.
Critics fear the glut of freebies is helping to transform many local police departments into paramilitary forces. Norm Stamper, a retired Seattle police chief who is now a spokesman for a nonprofit group that supports legalizing and regulating illicit drugs, said the program is fueling a pervasive, troubling trend.
“The harm for me is that it further militarizes American law enforcement,” Stamper said. “We make a serious mistake, I’m convinced, in equipping domestic law enforcement, particularly in smaller, rural communities, with this much military equipment.”
Inadequate oversight has been a major shortcoming of the program. Along with suspension of firearms distribution, state coordinators were instructed to perform an inventory of all weapons, aircraft, boats and armored vehicles.